Toronto Police Association launches no confidence vote against Chief Mark Saunders

The Toronto Police Association has launched a vote of no confidence against Chief Mark Saunders.

Mayor John Tory responds by expressing confidence in Chief Saunders

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders has told CBC's Metro Morning it is 'absolutely wrong' to suggest police staffing issues are endangering the public. (CBC)

The Toronto Police Association has launched a no confidence vote against Police Chief Mark Saunders, according to an internal memo to its members. 

"Despite numerous attempts by the association to address relief measures for our members, the Chief has continuously failed to put forward any meaningful solutions to relieve the stress on you," the memo reads. "The association has lost confidence in the Chief's ability to address these issues with any urgency."

Officials at police headquarters have refused to comment on the vote but say that it will not affect day-to-day operations in any way. 

The move comes amid an ongoing clash with top brass at the Toronto Police Service over what the association calls critical understaffing. Tensions have been brewing for months, with officers donning ball caps in protest last September. 

The police board appoints Toronto's police chief and association president Mike McCormack says the union is aware that it can't simply vote Saunders out of his job. But, he says, they're determined to make a statement. 

"This puts him in a position where he's now being notified that the membership has no confidence in him at this point and that he can either fix that or continue in a way which the membership will not follow him in," he said in an interview.

Members of the police association will vote online until Feb 21. 

CBC Toronto published exclusive interviews with officers, one of whom is a 20-year veteran of the force who says staffing levels are "dangerously low," leaving frontline officers feeling vulnerable and endangering the public. It has also resulted in a marked drop in morale among officers, the staff sergeant explained.

The chief responded to those comments with an internal email to Toronto police saying, "I am aware that some of you are concerned that moving from the old policing model to a new model is not easy. I want you to know that you — the members — are my priority every day."

Saunders appeared on CBC's Metro Morning in January to defend the lower staffing levels — a part of his modernization efforts — saying it is "absolutely wrong" to suggest police staffing issues endanger the public or compromise the safety of his officers.

He explained that the ongoing effort to modernize police operations is meant to ensure that highly trained officers can focus on priority calls instead of "doing absolutely everything."

Saunders suggested that resources that are already available to the force will be used more efficiently as the process matures. Last year, for example, frontline officers spent some 47,000 hours dealing with low-priority calls involving people living with mental illness, and some 10,000 doing crossing guard duties, according to Saunders.

"In the cold spell, we had officers guarding broken water mains," he explained.

As for reports that morale is at a nearly all-time low, Saunders says the issue "has to do a lot" with a changing discourse between communities and police.

Mayor voices his support for chief

Mayor John Tory, who also sits on the police board, said he has "complete confidence" in Saunders and remains committed to modernizing the force.

For the second straight year, that work has allowed the city to flatline the police budget.

Still, Tory says there are plans to bolster the force.

"At this very moment, more than 80 new police officers are being hired and staffing is being significantly increased at 911," Tory said in an email statement.

"Responsibilities are being taken on by the city so police officers can be deployed where they are needed most instead of directing traffic or answering noise calls."